Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis' eloquent and winsome defense of the Christian faith, originated as a series of BBC radio talks broadcast during the dark days of World War Two. Here is the story of the extraordinary life and afterlife of this influential and much-beloved book.
George Marsden describes how Lewis gradually went from being an atheist to a committed Anglican - famously converting to Christianity in 1931 after conversing into the night with his friends, J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugh Dyson - and how Lewis delivered his wartime talks to a traumatized British nation in the midst of an all-out war for survival.
Marsden recounts how versions of those talks were collected together in 1952 under the title Mere Christianity, and how the book went on to become one of the most widely read presentations of essential Christianity ever published, particularly among American evangelicals. He examines its role in the conversion experiences of such figures as Charles Colson, who read the book while facing arrest for his role in the Watergate scandal. Marsden explores its relationship with Lewis' Narnia books and other writings and explains why Lewis' plainspoken case for Christianity continues to have its critics and ardent admirers to this day. With uncommon clarity and grace, Marsden provides invaluable new insights into this modern spiritual classic.
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Calm, Clear, Valuable Look at the Legacy of M.C.
Lovers of CSL's books (of which I am one) nearly always approach a new Lewis book with a mix of excitement (Alright! More stuff about Lewis!) and dread (What if something foundational to my experience with Lewis is threatened??). Especially with this book, since many of us find Mere Christianity's arguments almost perfect and we rely upon it for the part of our belief monitored by our reason.
Well, there are critiques of Lewis's arguments here. In fact, a major part of the book catches us all up on the latest (N T Wright, McGrath, et al) responses - and responses to responses - to the most debated parts of Mere Christianity, particularly the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument. There is nothing earth-shattering, but this book did finally turn a light on for me concerning what I really come to Lewis for: it is not to have my intellect 100% secure in my belief. If I'm honest, all along I have come to Lewis to have my intellect "pretty sure" in my belief. There are other parts of my person besides my reason responsible for my faith, and this book articulates that in a way I had not anticipated.
That is not to say that the arguments against parts of Lewis's thought are especially convincing to me - honestly, I still side with Lewis in every particular that the book addresses. But it's the first time I've known that, even if I didn't, it wouldn't matter. It turns out that the thing Mere Christianity does to us and for us is a bit more elusive and interesting than offering watertight arguments.
Also, this review makes it sound like the book emphasizes arguments against Lewis, but it definitely does not. Most of the book is, like he calls it, a biography of a book: the story of how the broadcast talks originated, got printed, and got compiled. It's a fascinating read.
MacKenzie's performance is perfect. I mean, really perfect. I listened to it twice back-to-back, largely because of the vocal performance.
The history and influence of Mere Christianity
- Adam Shields